Connecting to the World Bank
South Asia is one of the world’s prime regions suffering from climate change, infrastructural problems, devastation from natural disasters and crops destruction. The World Bank extends support in these and other areas with an unmatched reliability.
A key development partner in South Asia, the World Bank still has miles to go before it can make a real impact.
The process of development in most countries in South Asia has been slow. It is frequently derailed because of a number of problems such as lack of funds, corrupt regimes, and well-intentioned but largely ineffective leaders. In this context, the World Bank Group (WBG) has long honored its commitment to the region by identifying issues, mobilizing communities and supporting initiatives of governments, community organizations and other stakeholders to keep the development process rolling.
With an impressive portfolio of 215 projects managed by its subsidiary institutions – the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – the World Bank has been an important development partner in South Asia. In 2012, the total net commitments of the WB for South Asia reached an astounding $38.7 billion.
According to the most recent poverty figures, about 571 million people in South Asia survive on less than $1.25 a day. The WB’s Development Marketplace (DM) offers a competitive grant program that funds innovative, sustainable projects for low-income groups. The DM has awarded, in aggregate, US $60 million to social enterprises identified through country, regional, and global competitions. Onno Ruhl, the World Bank’s Country Director in India, acknowledges that the Bank is committed to supporting innovative models and programs “that support underserved communities, particularly in low-income states”.
Its country partnership strategy for India is based on a lending program of $3 billion-$5 billion each year starting from 2013-17 to encourage inclusiveness of economic growth, cut poverty to 5.5 percent by 2030 from 29.8 percent in 2010, and increase the share of people living above the threshold to 41.3 percent from 19.1 percent.
In Bangladesh, to promote and facilitate public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects that offer expertise in evaluation, negotiation and implementation, the World Bank has been sponsoring 50 percent of the operating budget of the Infrastructure Investment Facilitation Center (IIFC) since its inception in 1999.
Another example of a successful initiative supported by the Bank in Bangladesh is that of the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED). Under this project, Solar Home Systems (SHS) were established in remote areas as an alternative for electrification through other sources. Registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for carbon credits, the project installed two million SHSs by 2012. The repeater Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project II (RERED II), which was approved in September 2012, is working to cover an additional 2.5 million people.
The crucial support offered by the Bank enabled Nepal to achieve its first Millennium Development Goal ahead of the schedule when it reduced its poverty levels by half, with a percentage drop from 53.1 percent in 2004 to 24.8 percent in 2011.
In Sri Lanka, 200,000 households in 1,000 post-conflict villages have benefited from infrastructure and productive investment by the WB that allowed for the rehabilitation of 650 km roads. In addition to this, 12,000 hectares of land was brought back to production.
In Pakistan, 5.2 million microcredit loans were provided since 2000 under the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund supported by the Bank. As a result, 4.7 million families received income support of $12 per month.
The World Bank helps the developing countries improve “access to affordable connectivity, transform delivery of basic services, drive innovations and productivity gains, and improve competitiveness”. Its consistent support for reforms in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has drawn over US$30 billion private investment for mobile network infrastructure in the IDA countries.
Young adults account for half of the unemployed in South Asia. To address the unemployment challenge of the technology-savvy youth, and to encourage ownership of ideas and their implementation, the World Bank and Microsoft recently launched a South Asia Regional Grant Competition in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The project has been quite successful.
The WB has also supported projects that create awareness of social issues
such as violence against women. In Nepal, it funded the Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon this year where participants explored ideas and solutions to combat gender-based violence. Maria Correia, the World Bank’s South Asia Social Development Manager, said: “We realize that engaging youth and tapping into their passion and creativity is critical for breaking out of the cycle of gender violence. Young people have the greatest potential to change their society and the future.”
Access to basic necessities like healthcare and quality education is crucial to development. In the area of healthcare, the WB lays emphasis on fulfilling the nutrition needs of women and girls, and on providing skilled birth attendants to check infant and maternal mortality. As a result of the WB’s support, in Tamil Nadu, 99.5 percent of deliveries now take place in medical facilities. In Nepal, the maternal mortality rate has declined from 538 in 1996 to 380/100,000 live births.
Education projects focus on school enrollment rates and vocational training. The World Bank has made significant contribution towards education reforms in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In Sri Lanka, 2,825 classroom blocks have been built; in Bangladesh, the enrollment of female students in secondary schools jumped from 47 percent in 2007 to 55 percent in 2012. In Nepal, the net primary enrollment has increased to 95 percent and gender parity in primary education has been achieved. In Pakistan, secondary school graduation rate has increased from 30 percent to 39 percent during 2008-11. In Sindh, the female-male primary net enrollment rate ratio in rural areas also increased from 61 percent to 72 percent in 2007-11.
The World Bank provided support to the education reform program of the Punjab government in the form of financing close to $800 million over the last 10 years. It also helped in the provision of 34 million free textbooks to more than 11 million students in the 2010-11 academic year and in the hiring of more than 200,000 new teachers since 2003. The infrastructure of many schools was considerably improved with the construction of toilets, boundary walls, and new classrooms – all supported by the WB.
Greater accountability and transparency in governance is essential for governments to deliver better services and ensure economic wellbeing of people. Supported by the World Bank Institute (WBI), the Dhaka-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability South Asia Region,( ANSA-SAR) and Global Partnership Fund (GPF), promote and strengthen the concepts and practices of social accountability by holding workshops, discussions and deliberation on development-related issues.
In Bangladesh, the Bank has been supporting the Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) since 2006 to strengthen self-accountable local governance. Recognizing its positive impact, the Government of Bangladesh has requested for an extension of the LGSP-approach to other local government levels.
The SouthAsia Social Accountability Network (SasaNet) is another collective initiative taken by the Centre for Good Governance (CGG) and the World Bank to develop a broader understanding of social accountability in promoting good governance among various government and civil society organizations. In India and Sri Lanka, the SasaNet has used citizen report cards and community score cards in demanding greater accountability and efficiency in the delivery of public services.
The South Asian region has been adversely affected by climatic changes that result in inconsistent and heavy rainfall, an increase in droughts in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, fast melting of glaciers in Nepal, and a rise in sea levels affecting coastal areas of Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
South Asia’s expected population increase from 1.6 billion people in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2050 will further strain the already scarce regional resources. To successfully navigate the worst effects of climate change, major investments in infrastructure, flood defenses and drought- and heatresistant crops are needed.
The Bank is contributing towards provision of services in irrigation and drainage, reforesting of water-logged land, and in facilitating the process of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) for food security.
It has always emphasized the need for regional economic cooperation, sharing of information and capacity building through mutual analysis and dialogue. The Bank’s policy studies focus on finding the constraints that make South Asia one of the least-integrated regions of the world, with the lowest level of intra-regional trade.
Regional trade in South Asia is even less than that in sub-Saharan Africa. To deal with this problem, the WB suggests “trade in goods, services, and electricity, people-to-people contact, and cooperation in water resources management among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Nepal”.
Over the last many decades, the World Bank has supported the development process in South Asia through timely and consistent provision of funds and expertise. By reenergizing the nascent economies and stabilizing the existing ones, the WB proved itself a truly reliable partner.